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Black Women have filled incredible and often unknown or understated roles in the advancement of computing throughout history. Below are just a few stories of technological discovery, innovation, and perseverance from amazing Black women “computers”. Their legacy inspires Black Women in Computing community and Black women in tech everywhere.
KATHERINE G. JOHNSON
Katherine Johnson was born in 1918 and entered college at 15. The only employment options for women when she graduated were teacher or nurse, so she taught high school before applying for a job for black mathematicians at the Langley Research Center (which would later become part of NASA). The position had just been opened to women when she applied in 1953.
Johnson calculated the flight path for the first NASA mission to space. Her skills were so highly valued that when real computers were brought on the scene, NASA made it her job to verify the computer’s results!
Johnson supposedly co-authored over 26 papers (received authored credit for only 1): NASA TND-233, “The Determination of Azimuth Angle at Burnout for Placing a Satellite over a Selected Earth Position” 1960. Authors: T.H. Skopinski, Katherine G. Johnson
Watch her story on MAKERS!
MELBA ROY MOUTON
Melba Roy Mouton was Assistant Chief of Research Programs at NASA’s Trajectory and Geodynamics Division in the 1960s and headed a group of NASA mathematicians called “computers”. Starting as a mathematician, she was head mathematician for Echo Satellites 1 and 2, and she worked up to being a Head Computer Programmer and then Program Production Section Chief at Goddard Space Flight Center.
Mouton was born in Fairfax, Virginia to Rhodie and Edna Chloe. She graduated from Howard University in 1950 with a master’s degree in mathematics. She started working for NASA in 1959, after working for the Army Map Service and the Census Bureau. At NASA, she received an Apollo Achievement Award and an Exceptional Performance Award. She retired in 1973.
Source: “The Goddard General Orbit Determination System” (PDF). NASA. Retrieved 2013-10-21.; “Human Computer”. NASA. Retrieved 2103-10-22.
ANNIE J. EASLEY
Annie J. Easley was an African-American computer scientist, mathematician, and rocket scientist who worked for the Lewis Research Center of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and its predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) (career started in 1955, as “computer”).
DR. EVELYN BOYD GRANVILLE
The second black woman to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics from Yale University (1949). She worked as a Computer Scientist for IBM on the Project Vanguard and Project Mercury space programs and U.S. Space Technologies Laboratories. She became a longtime professor.
“I always smile when I hear that women cannot excel in mathematics.“-Evelyn Boyd Granville
The following are brief bios of Black Women in Computing (in alphabetical order). This list is by no means conclusive. The content will grow and the delivery format may change as more information is discovered and as approvals for sharing this information are obtained. If you have suggestions for professionals not included on this list or any of the referenced lists below, please send an email to email@example.com.
Jamika D. Burge serves as Director of Assessment Technology Product and Research for the Smarter Balanced at UCLA, and she also has an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science appointment at Howard University. She is active in computer science education and STEM preparedness efforts, providing expertise for a host of programs funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Computing Research Association (CRA) designed to broaden participation in computer science. Dr. Burge holds a Ph.D. in CS from Virginia Tech, where she was an IBM Research Fellow.
Loretta Cheeks has developed systems & led development teams within the communications, radio, avionics, instrumentation & control and chemical industries. After spending 20 years engineering technical solutions for Fortune 500 corporations, she started the journey to earn a Ph.D. in CS as an
Adobe Foundation GEM Fellow at Arizona State University. In 2015, Cheeks also founded StrongTIES to promote STEM K-12 education that emphasizes creativity, problem‐solving, collaboration and a sustainable education program using computer technologies.
Danielle Cummings is a Computer Systems Researcher for the Department of Defense. She is also the founder and committee chair of Black Women in Computing (BWiC), a community focused on increasing the number of black women and other minorities in computing-related fields. Dr. Cummings holds BA degrees in CS and Art from The Ohio State University, an MS in Software Engineering from the University of Houston, Clear Lake, and a Ph.D. in CS from Texas A&M University.